Dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill every year while working in extreme heat or humid conditions, according to OSHA. As June marks both the official start of summer and National Safety Month, now is a perfect time for employers to review emergency plans with outdoor workers and provide tips on how to beat the heat and stay safe during lightning storms.
Beating the heat
With temperatures quickly rising, employers should first understand the factors that can lead to heat susceptibility.
Heat susceptibility can be caused by:
- A combination of high temperature, direct sun and humidity;
- Intense physical labor during peak hours; or
- Sudden hot days after cool weather conditions or workers who have not yet acclimated to the heat.
To prevent these factors from causing illness, employees must stay hydrated, drinking plenty of water to ensure fluids are replenished. Ideally, workers should drink water before beginning a job and re-hydrate often. Any caffeinated beverages should be avoided as they increase heat sensitivity.
Workers also should avoid waterproof or tight clothing that doesn’t breathe. To dress for the heat, workers should wear a wide-brimmed hat, light-colored clothes and sunscreen. Fabrics that pull moisture away from the body and provide a cooling effect also are recommended.
Proper attire and hydration can be a big help, but it’s still important to recognize the symptoms of heat exhaustion. Headache, dizziness, weakness, wet skin and fainting are indications that workers must get out of the heat immediately — or at least move to the shade. If an employee experiences confusion, slurred speech, excessive thirst, nausea or vomiting, it’s very possible he/she may be experiencing more severe heat stroke. Immediate medical attention should be sought in these cases.
Employers can also do their part in preventing heat-related illness with smart planning for outdoor work. This includes setting earlier schedules to avoid the hottest part of the day and arranging frequent rest periods and water breaks in shady, cooler areas. Project managers should also increase the number of workers for strenuous tasks on hot days and acclimate employees who haven’t worked in hot conditions lately by gradually increasing workloads and allowing more frequent breaks.
Staying safe when lightning strikes
The chance of being struck by lightning is only about 1 in 500,000, according to the CDC, but the risk increases in states that have frequent storm activity, like Florida, Alabama, North Carolina and Texas. Wherever employees may be doing outdoor work, encourage them not to tempt fate. They should be smart by following these CDC safety guidelines:
- Look to the skies. If dark clouds form and the winds pick up, do not begin any task that cannot be stopped quickly. If lightning can be seen, follow the 30-30 rule. First, count to 30. If thunder sounds before 30, get inside. Suspend outdoor work or activities for at least 30 minutes after thunder ends.
- Shelter indoors. Although the best place to be during a lightning storm is inside, indoor spaces aren’t lightning-proof. Avoid sinks and showers since lightning can travel through the building’s plumbing system. Do not use electronic equipment and corded phones. And, of course, stay away from windows and doors, even concrete as lightning can travel through metal bars in concrete walls or floors.
- Go low. If caught out in the open, find a low spot — like a ditch — and crouch or squat down low so as little of the body is touching the ground as possible. Electrical currents from lightning can travel along the top of the ground.
- Find refuge in a car. If a hard-topped truck or car is available, hop inside. Although most people think rubber tires are the grounding force, it’s the metal shell that dissipates the electricity and keeps you safe.
Thunderstorms may be thrilling, but lightning can kill. Remind employees to respect the power of nature and observe storms from a safe vantage point inside.
Each season comes with a new set of liabilities. Now that the risks of cold and icy conditions have passed, reeducate employees on how to protect their safety during summer months. It’s far easier to act now than in the heat of the moment.